Planning for a War is Not the Same as Planning a War

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Mon, Apr 6 - 9:00 am EST | 4 years ago by
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Lines of Departure - China

Since at least the time of world class fool, blunderer, jackass, and complete and utter failure, Woodrow Wilson, there’s been a lot of confusion about what military planning is and means. For these purposes, it falls into two categories: planning to actually do something you intend to do, and planning to react to something you do not really want to happen but must be prepared for.

In terms of the latter, I would be not just surprised but disgusted if somewhere in the bowels of the five-sided puzzle palace there are no plans, kept more or less up to date, for invading Canada. I would be at least as surprised and disgusted if Canada doesn’t have some plans to resist that invasion, too. Sure, ours might be hidden as a response to a humanitarian crisis, or couched in terms of responding to a request from Canada’s government for help/intervention, while theirs – for all I know – may reference “Fenians,” or the like. Still, if the plans don’t exist – quite despite that none of us want to invade Canada – then a large number of multi-starred idiots need to be relieved. Why? Because you never really know. Because the future defies prediction in any detail.

That is different in kind from things like Hitler’s invasions of Poland and the USSR which fell not into the category of things that the planner would rather not happen (but had to be prepared to react to) but of things the planner absolutely intended to do.

So is China planning for a war as some claim? Sure they are; it’s their general staff’s job to do that planning. Do they want that war or wars? Puhleeze; as discussed previously, a real war is about the last thing they want. They’re much, much more likely engaged in the first, contingency, class of planning than the second, aggressive, class.

So what do they want? I think they want three things. These are 1) that their near neighbors be aligned and allied with them, not with a possible or probable enemy, or that they at least be very friendly neutrals, 2) that their coasts, coastal waters and shipping be safe, and 3) that at least the appearance of a united China be maintained, which appearance they’ll have as long as Taiwan doesn’t insist it’s a separate country. It’s a matter of face, which is a lot more than mere appearance and the loss of which has real, tangible, serious and dangerous consequences in the real world. (To us, too, by the way.) There are other things, no doubt, that China would like, but those other things are probably either easy as mud or not achievable by any measure, so probably not something they worry about overmuch.

It is, however, in the nature of those three factors that they cannot be solved by China by recourse to war, either individually or simultaneously. Try to force such of their near neighbors as are aligned with us to dump us and adopt a more pro-Chinese, or at least less anti-Chinese, stance and we can smack their coasts, and cut off their trade rather handily. Moreover, forcing their neighbors or trying to probably only forces them to align more closely with us, which isn’t the goal at all. With that much support from us, Taiwan probably declares independence or begins to wage war on the PRC, or both. Try to gain undisputed control of their coastal waters and they risk problems with us, with all those bordering states and near island states, which gets their imports and exports chopped. Push Taiwan hard enough and they do declare independence, anyway, with all the loss of face for the regime that that entails.

So what’s the stink about the Senkaku and Yaeyama Island groups?1 It’s hard to be sure but one suspects that the Yaeyamas, Japanese and inhabited, hence something that Japan must fight for, are a distraction for the seizure or ceding of the uninhabited Senkakus, while getting possession of those is more or less a means to establishing diplomatic and psychological dominance over Taiwan: “See, we’ve already outflanked you and can cut you off from aid; so let’s chat.” One suspects, too, that from the Taiwanese point of view it’s perfectly fine for Japan to retain the Senkakus, but the claim to them must be maintained to prevent the PRC from getting ahold of them. Thus, Taiwan must fight for what Japan may not.

This of course presupposes that we don’t try to throw either Taiwan or Japan to the wolves. We might throw Taiwan to the wolves, of course; to some extent we already have, decades ago. But the net result of trying to toss Japan to the wolves is that Japan reverts to being a wolf, rather a werewolf – a big, mean, nasty werewolf, who’s good with a sword, to boot. This wouldn’t be in China’s interest at all, and less still to the extent that “abandoned” Taiwan takes up with wolf-like Japan.

Does that mean we don’t have to worry at all? No, there are reasons to worry. There are also reasons not to worry overmuch. In the latter class is the surplus of males, mentioned previously, at something above thirty million excess males. It’s not quite the risk to us or anyone else some would claim. The reason – well, a reason, probably one of the biggest – why Chinese prefer boys to girls is that boys take care of their parents in their old age while girls marry and take care of their husband’s parents. In either case, though, from China’s point of view those one child family excess boys are not expendable because they’re needed to care for their parents in their old age, which the government is not well equipped to do. Can they afford to lose some? Sure. Can they afford to lose a bunch? One doubts.

Moreover, though the excess is real, even if they were all expendable, they’re not trained and they’re not for the most part in the right year groups to be trained. Perhaps worst of all, from the Chinese military point of view, they’re largely over-indulged, soft, spoiled brats whom it might not be possible to train.2

I’m not too worried about that excess; they’re more likely to be a problem for China than for us, but still not the kind of problem they can usefully export.

On the other hand, a valid reason to worry is that, from China’s point of view, they’re being surrounded. India, which used to be at least somewhat ideologically sympathetic to the PRC, and effectively allied with another communist state, the USSR, is fairly rapidly gravitating to our camp.3 SEATO has been dead for decades, but ASEAN, the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations, is still there. Furthermore, while ASEAN isn’t our lapdog, they don’t like and/or do fear China, and some of them are close to us (Thailand, for example) or inching closer (Vietnam), while the Philippines used to be us and, in some ways, still are us. Then the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, with our Navy – with our combined navies – dominate China’s coast. To the north and west it’s all MMFA, which is to say, “miles and miles of not very much, really.”

Basically, they’re cut off if we want them to be, with only a possible line for commerce on someone else’s rail lines, the links to which would not be hard for us to cut. The word for that is “surrounded.” They’re also not food self-sufficient.4

Imagine how we, also a trading power, would feel if, instead of owning our coasts and having friendly Canada and weak Mexico on our borders, we had no control over our local waters and all our neighbors were hostile and powerful and in many cases allied with a greater power than ourselves. Add to that a historic image of our country as a woman, stripped and held down with her legs splayed, while a long line assembles, dicks in hand. That’s in good part China’s historical self-image, which self-image explains a great deal.

So what should we do? I’ll get into that next week, though I’ll admit in advance to having few hard answers.



2 That sounds like a very extreme case, of course. Halve it…quarter it…and it still means untrainable rabble.

3 Yes, as discussed above, China and India have had their problems, but the issues were non-existential.


Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through

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